David Gordon Green on the risks of rebooting ‘The Exorcist’

Filmmaker David Gordon Green, first famous for independent films like 2000’s “George Washington” and 2003’s “All the Real Girls” and now something of an expert on horror reboots, came of age in the Presbyterian Church before attending to a Jesuit high school in Dallas.

“It was really interesting to learn the difference between those two religions,” Green, 48, recently told The Times in a video call. “I guess I always thought a church was a church. “The world of demonology was something I had never been exposed to.”

It was around that age that he first saw William Friedkin’s iconic supernatural thriller, “The Exorcist,” an act of secret defiance. “My parents were very strict about the content I could watch,” she said. “The public library had a copy, so I could go watch it in short bursts with headphones on in a little cubby. “That’s also how I saw ‘The Shining’ for the first time.”

Director careers are born from such transgressions. Green said he still carries that kid with him: the kid in the cubicle who guided him through a recent trilogy of updated “Halloween” movies that surprised both fans and box office expectations.

“In a strange way, making those movies was a way for me to confront those childhood anxieties and demons and be able to do what I needed to do with Michael Myers,” Green said. “You’re asking me to go back to my childhood, face my fears, and be a healer of what happens next. In almost all of my films, I can point to the 11-year-old in me, excited to become a filmmaker.”

Green’s latest project, “The Exorcist: Believer” (out this Friday), is another expression of that youthful impulse. It will surely attract the curious who, remembering their own childhood, remember Friedkin’s classic as a rite of passage to the sleepover. Starring Leslie Odom Jr. as a widowed father whose daughter unknowingly welcomes a malevolent entity, the new film is reminiscent of the original while telling its own story.

“’The Exorcist’ is the holy grail of [horror movies]”said the director. “I figured if I was ever going to do another one, this would be the tallest mountain to climb, so why not leave that aside?”

From left to right, Lidya Jewett and Olivia Marcum in the film “The Exorcist: Believer.”

(Universal Photos)

Green is surprisingly honest about the type of work that has come to dominate his career, starting in 2018 with “Halloween” and extending through 2021’s “Halloween Kills,” 2022’s “Halloween Ends” and potentially two more “Exorcist” sequels. ”.

“Love them or hate them, they’re movies that spark great interest, that people want to see, and that make smart deals,” Green said. “We tentatively have a roadmap for two more movies, but I’m going to let this movie become a reality first.”

Studio head Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse co-produced “The Exorcist: Believer” along with Green’s “Halloween” trilogy, confirms that more installments are planned, films that “will evolve as we see the reaction,” he said. Blum has earned a reputation for supporting original horror stories, like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Gerard Johnston’s “M3GAN,” but he also knows what a reboot entails.

“When you’re making a sequel to an iconic movie, you need something close enough to the original movie that it makes sense to use the title, but not so close that it looks like you’re ripping it off,” Blum said. “And I think what convinced me most about David’s story is that he checked both boxes.”

Green’s script, co-written with Peter Sattler, evolved from a deep dive into the exorcism ritual itself, written indelibly into the public consciousness by Friedkin’s original, but universally recognizable in several different religions, not just in the Christianity.

“It became really overwhelming because most [religions] do [it]”Green said. “So there’s a huge world of opportunity to tell stories and expose audiences to something they may not know about. Being able to study different rituals across a variety of religions is fascinating as a writer’s exploration, but it also brings something new to the genre.”

A man in a gray overshirt looks into the lens.

Director David Gordon Green, photographed at the London Hotel in West Hollywood.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Green opened his narrative to include many different religious perspectives, including those of a Pentecostal preacher, a radical doctor, and a Baptist clergyman.

“At the beginning of the movie, we got a real Haitian priestess to do a blessing and that resonated with everyone,” Green said of an early scene. “She shook us. It was a beautiful, emotional, physical, vibrant musical ceremony and it lasted one take, 12 minutes. We edited it, but it’s certainly deep. I didn’t know at the time the words she was saying, the song she was singing, what exactly was happening, but you feel that charisma, that magic in the air.”

Unlike the first “Exorcist” and its conservative overtones, which aim to proselytize the “power of Christ” against Satan (and, by extension, the teen counterculture of the early 1970s), Green says his film does not It has an immediate sociopolitical context.

“For me, it’s a love story,” he says. “It’s about finding faith, not necessarily in an established religious infrastructure, but maybe in your community, in your family. Belief in something bigger than yourself is really important and belongs to all religions and everyone on this Earth. There is no roadmap to what lies beyond. You can read all the books by Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking, but at the end of the day you think: What the fuck?”

Green clearly takes the material seriously, enough to approach “The Exorcist’s” Ellen Burstyn for guidance, first as an advisor and then as a full-fledged on-screen participant. He updates his Oscar-nominated performance as Chris MacNeil, former actor, now best-selling author after publishing a book about his encounter with evil for parents going through similar phenomena.

A man and a woman argue in a hospital.

Leslie Odom, Jr. and Ellen Burstyn in the film “The Exorcist: Believer.”

(Eli Joshua Ade/Universal Pictures)

“I called her and said, ‘I want to meet you, because you are one of the essential ingredients of this legacy,’” Green said. “And we started exchanging books, from spiritual texts to reference points for this character and his journey, and we found something that seemed really applicable to what Chris might have been doing.”

She also consulted Burstyn on how best to ensure the mental well-being of younger actors on set. (The 1973 production was notoriously difficult for everyone involved.) “Believer” employed a team of coordinators led by self-proclaimed soul coach Carla Duren to ensure the “spiritual safety” of the cast and crew, Green says.

“We had the incredible Carla Duren as a real balance of diverse perspectives,” Green said. “Not only because of the themes of this film, but also because of the team. You have hundreds of people surrounding this climactic sequence, but we all bring energy to the scene. And so having Carla come in and bring some peace to that inner circle was really valuable. Sometimes, that’s doing research and talking through dialogue. “Sometimes it involves burning sage and doing some kind of traditional healing.”

There has always been this attention towards Green, sensitive to the softer and more natural notes of its environment. (In the “George Washington” era, he was often compared to Terrence Malick.) That artist is still working, even if the work now involves blood, crucifixes, and high school student vomit.

The director, who lives in South Carolina, says the time he spent driving between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, to film “Halloween Ends” was a major source of inspiration for “The Exorcist: Believer.”

“As you go through the lowlands, it’s a beautiful, curious place,” Green said. “This place is steeped in history, theory, mythology, ceremony, music, creation. It’s a very lively and rich environment and that’s one of the things that attracted me when I moved here many years ago. And that’s where the story began, literally, on those road trips: Spanish moss and old oak trees and just thinking about different philosophies and different parts of the world that you grew up in.”

He mentioned Beaufort, SC, as a place where he once saw a ghost. “That changed my life,” she said. “It was something inexplicable and infinitely fascinating.”

Green, an exceptionally candid and veteran showman, does not elaborate. His movie will do that for him.

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